Attempting to recreate anything from a history buried for 2,300+ years is wrought with challenges, but ancient India has particular difficulties. Though the period is full of literary activity, legal, religious and philosophical, astonishingly little historical literature was produced in India until the Islamic conquests of the 12th century CE. Other than the most basic facts – what battle was fought when, between whom, and who won – there are no indigenous accounts of military history from Chandragupta’s era. India did not produce the likes of a Thucydides who recorded its history with any precision or rigor.
The does not mean, however, that India’s historical record is “mute.” The extant period literature, both indigenous and foreign, combined with a wealth of archeological sources, has provided data for a number of modern Indian scholars. Though out of print, thanks to the modern “miracle” of the Internet I was able to obtain two key works on the ancient Indian military system: P.C. Chakravarti’s The Art of War in Ancient India, and Bimal Majumdar’s The Military System in Ancient India. Both works take a necessarily syncretic approach, given the differing sources of historical data, but – to my great relief – lifted the fog of my ignorance. Yes, I discovered, we do know something of the Indian’s ancient military – more than I had first assumed, and more than enough to devise a game simulation with a truly historical basis.
Other works were added to my bibliography, including War in Ancient India by the idiosyncratic V.R.R. Dikshitar, H.C. Das’ work on the Military History of Kalinga, and two good studies on the historical/cultural milieu of the era, K.A. Sastsri’s Age of the Nandas and Mauryas and Chandragupta Maurya: A Gem of Indian History by P.L. Bhargava. (Space permitting, the game Chandragupta will come with an annotated bibliography.)
Of all the research sources, the most fascinating however was the period literature. The most well known and comprehensive of these is the Arthashastra. Attributed to “Kautilya” – believed to be one and the same as Chandragupta Maurya’s chief minister and consiglieri, Chanakya -- this classical work is a treatise on the civil and military administration of the Mauryan empire. From the Arthashastra we learn of the composition and organization of the Mauryan army, as well as battlefield arrays, tactics and strategy, and details such as the use and design of fortifications. This information formed the basis not only for the works of Chakravarti et al but also for our game. Combined with data on weapons and armament from the archaeological sources, and with some glimpses of Indian warfare methods provided by foreign sources such as Arrian, Curtius, etc., I had what I needed to design a game. Lastly, with some satellite images and topo-maps of the known battle terrain, and with nuggets of information panned from period epic, drama, and legend, we could assemble scenarios and populate them with at least a few of the historical leaders.
What we know from the historical data provides us with a simulation; what we don’t know (or can’t find out), though provides opportunity to design a fun and interesting game. But first, let’s continue with what we do know – which is considerable.
Next week: The development of the Indian military system.
Below, detail of temple sculpture (city of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh) showing elephant battle scene.